Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Stop drinking alcohol

If you've been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you must stop drinking alcohol. It's the only way of possibly reversing liver damage or, in more advanced cases, preventing the disease from becoming worse. Many people who stop drinking have dramatic improvement in symptoms in just a few months.

If you continue to drink alcohol, you're likely to experience serious complications.

If you are dependent on alcohol and want to stop drinking, your doctor can recommend a therapy that's tailored for your needs. This might include medications, counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous, an outpatient treatment program or a residential inpatient stay.

Treatment for malnutrition

Your doctor may recommend a special diet to reverse nutritional deficiencies that often occur in people with alcoholic hepatitis. You may be referred to a dietitian who can help you assess your current diet and suggest changes to increase the vitamins and nutrients you are lacking.

If you have trouble eating enough to get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs, your doctor may recommend tube feeding. This may involve passing a tube down your throat and into your stomach. A special nutrient-rich liquid diet is then passed through the tube.

Medications to reduce liver inflammation

Your doctor may recommend corticosteroids drugs if you have severe alcoholic hepatitis. These drugs have shown some short-term benefit in increasing survival. Steroids have significant side effects and are not recommended if you have failing kidneys, gastrointestinal bleeding or an infection. About 40 percent of people do not respond to corticosteroids. Your doctor may also recommend pentoxifylline, especially if corticosteroids don't work for you. Some studies of pentoxifylline have shown some benefit, others have not. You might also ask about clinical trials of other therapies.

Liver transplant

For many people with severe alcoholic hepatitis, liver transplant is the only hope to avoid death. Survival rates for liver transplant for alcoholic hepatitis are similar to those for other forms of hepatitis, greater than 70 percent five-year survival.

However, most medical centers are reluctant to perform liver transplants on people with alcoholic liver disease because of the fear they will resume drinking after surgery. For most people with alcoholic hepatitis, the disease is considered a contraindication for liver transplantation in most transplant centers in the U.S.

For transplant to be an option, you would need to find a program that will consider you. You would have to meet the requirements of the program, including abstaining from alcohol for six months prior to transplant and agreeing not to resume drinking afterward.

Nov. 03, 2012

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.